Build resilience with Chinese exercise

Blog Post No. 56

2nd March 2018 – Updated on 31st March 2020

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2018/2020

Renata’s Coaching and counselling Blog:

Millions of Chinese people can’t be wrong! Why practising Chi Kung will keep you away from the doctor’s surgery

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Introduction

Nata-Lifestyle-coach8Keeping fit by doing lots of exercise is good for you, isn’t it?  There is lots of talk these days about the importance of keeping fit, and of avoiding a sedentary lifestyle.

However, there are certain drawbacks with some types of exercise, which I want to tell you about, because you may not be aware of them.

Not all exercise is automatically good for your body. A lot  depends on the type of exercise you do.  A good deal of injury to muscles and joints is common in the most widely practised systems of exercise in the West.

In this blog I’m going to outline some of the differences between Eastern and Western types of exercise – and describe the benefits of Eastern exercise, and some of the disadvantages of Western exercise, which are not widely known.

It’s important that you know the effects of different types of exercise, so that you can make an informed choice, if you decide that you want to improve your health by exercising.

Why is this important?  Firstly, because you will want a good return on the investment of your valuable time and money. And secondly, because you will want to avoid physical damage to your body.

‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ exercise

In his book, ‘The Tao of Detox’, by Daniel Reid (2003), Reid makes a distinction between ‘Hard’ exercise and ‘Soft’ exercise, and he explains the different effects these two types of exercise have on the body.

Here’s what ‘Hard’ exercise includes:

hard-exercise-picture

And now for some ‘Soft’ exercise systems:

Soft-exercise

The effects of ‘hard ‘exercise on the body

 There are lots of benefits from active sports, but there is also a downside to them. Here are some of the effects on the body of hard systems of exercise:

Infographic-on-hard-exercise.JPG

As you can see, the effects on the body aren’t all beneficial, and if there is also a competitive element to the sport, then this can act as a source of stress throughout the body-brain-mind.

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For many years I have recommended Chinese exercises to students in college, and to my coaching/counselling clients.

Front cover, 8In the book on diet and exercise which I co-authored with Jim Byrne, I quoted a student of Chi Kung who improved his own mental health using this system.  Towards the end of his blog he wrote this:  “(Chi Kung) is a powerful tool for overcoming mild to moderate depression, for overcoming anxiety, worry and fear. It is a potent way to raise self-esteem and increase your resistance to the stresses and strains of modern living.”

From: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity, by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.***

So, I would recommend this system of exercise for whole body-brain-mind health.

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The effects of ‘soft’ exercise on the body

The Eastern approach to exercise (which we’ve called a ‘soft’ approach) is that the exercise must be therapeutic for the body. So let us look at some evidence of the value of soft exercise.   And this will help us to understand why millions of Chinese have practised it continuously for thousands of years.

Here are some of the benefits:

# One of the top rewards of doing this type of exercise is that it switches your body into the ‘rest and digest’ (or healing) mode of functioning.  When you do ‘Soft’ exercise (which involves slow, rhythmic movements, combined with deep breathing), this shifts the autonomic (or automatic) nervous system into the calming, healing branch of your nervous system and keeps it there throughout the exercise.

This enhances the immune system and stimulates the production of red and white blood cells in the bone marrow.

# It also stimulates the thymus (the immune system’s master gland) and other glands, to release the full range of immune system protection factors; and at the same time it stops the release of the stress hormones which are part of the ‘Fight or flight’ response – (which  have powerful immune-system inhibiting effects).

# “Chi-gong also stimulates the increase in secretions of natural steroids”, states Daniel Reid (2003) “thereby relieving arthritis without the need to resort to the toxic synthetic steroids which most doctors prescribe for this condition.” (Page 114)

group-chi-gong

# Furthermore, apparently when we stretch our muscles, this squeezes stagnant blood from our body tissues and then the relaxation part allows fresh arterial blood to flow in. And stretching also stimulates lymphatic drainage, which we need to stimulate through body movement each day, so that wastes (e.g. toxic waste products, infectious microorganisms, etc), can be destroyed by our white blood cells, as they pass through the lymph nodes.

Because these soft exercises are always done in a relaxed, smooth and slow manner, with the smallest amount of effort, this means that no lactic acid is produced in the body tissues, which is a side effect of ‘hard’ exercise.

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For many years I have recommended Chinese exercises to students in college, and to my coaching/counselling clients.

Front cover, 8In the book on diet and exercise which I co-authored with Jim Byrne, I quoted a student of Chi Kung who improved his own mental health using this system.  Towards the end of his blog he wrote this:  “(Chi Kung) is a powerful tool for overcoming mild to moderate depression, for overcoming anxiety, worry and fear. It is a potent way to raise self-esteem and increase your resistance to the stresses and strains of modern living.”

From: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity, by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.***

So, I would recommend this system of exercise for whole body-brain-mind health.

~~~

The benefits to the body (continued)…

Benefits-of-soft-exercise-chart.JPG

# Doing these soft exercises slowly ensures that the heart doesn’t race, and the breath isn’t reduced.

# Apparently twenty minutes of Chi Kung practice slows down the pulse by an average of 15%, while increasing the overall amount of blood circulating in the body, and this effect lasts for several hours afterwards.

This increase in the flow of blood around the body results from the way soft exercise alters the workload of circulation from the heart, over to the diaphragm.

And one of the implications is this: High blood pressure, which is a life-threatening condition all over the world, can be controlled without effort by doing daily Chi Kung practice, without the need for drugs.

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For many years I have recommended Chinese exercises to students in college, and to my coaching/counselling clients.

Front cover, 8In the book on diet and exercise which I co-authored with Jim Byrne, I quoted a student of Chi Kung who improved his own mental health using this system.  Towards the end of his blog he wrote this:  “(Chi Kung) is a powerful tool for overcoming mild to moderate depression, for overcoming anxiety, worry and fear. It is a potent way to raise self-esteem and increase your resistance to the stresses and strains of modern living.”

From: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity, by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.***

So, I would recommend this system of exercise for whole body-brain-mind health.

~~~

Research findings on how Chi Kung reduces blood pressure

At the Shanghai Research Institute for Hypertension, one hundred people who were suffering from chronic high blood pressure and hypertension, took part in a research project to test whether Chi Kung exercise could help them.

What the researchers found was that after only five minutes of Chi Kung practice, blood pressure levels in all of the participants began to drop dramatically. And after twenty minutes their blood pressure reached the level it normally would have reached after three hours as a result of taking the kinds of blood-pressure drugs normally prescribed by Western medical practitioners.

Ninety-seven of the participants stayed free of high blood pressure and didn’t have to use the drugs any more, just by continuing to practice Chi Kung at home every day.

And the three patients who decided not to continue their Chi Kung practice quickly relapsed and had to go back on drug therapy.

Older-people-chi-gong-practitioners

The benefits of Chi Kung for the brain

# Electroencephalographic (EEG) scans of elderly people in China – who practice Chi Kung daily – show signs of rejuvenation.  That is to say, a pattern and frequency of brain waves has been found that are usually found in the brains of young children.  This is interpreted as showing that those who regularly practise this type of exercise can bring back the mental skills and abilities they had when they were young.

# Also, Chi Kung infuses the brain with energy, and activates the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and enkephalins. The effect of this is that brain functions are balanced.  Mental alertness is increased, and pain reduced.  And communication is enhanced between the brain and the peripheral nervous system.

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For many years I have recommended Chinese exercises, including Chi Kung, to students in college, and to my coaching/counselling clients.

Front cover, 8In the book on diet and exercise which I co-authored with Jim Byrne, I quoted a student of Chi Kung who improved his own mental health using this system.  Towards the end of his blog he wrote this:  “(Chi Kung) is a powerful tool for overcoming mild to moderate depression, for overcoming anxiety, worry and fear. It is a potent way to raise self-esteem and increase your resistance to the stresses and strains of modern living.”

From: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity, by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.***

So, I would recommend this system of exercise for whole body-brain-mind health.

~~~

Chi Kung benefits for the digestion process

# Indigestion, and acid reflux, are very common for people who are following a Western diet.  According to studies in China, the practice of Chi Kung affects the stomach in a beneficial way.  For example, fifteen minutes of practise of Chi Kung produces a big increase in the enzymes which are released by the stomach to digest food: pepsin, and other digestive enzymes; plus lysozyme, which is secreted by the salivary glands. Apparently this system of exercise balances the pH level in the stomach (the level of acid and alkalinity) and this helps prevent acid indigestion.

Conclusion

We are socialized in the UK, Europe and America to see sports as a necessarily competitive process, either between different teams (for example the recent Winter Olympics) or competing against one’s own previous performance at a particular sport. But competition causes stress, as nobody wants to lose the race, or to let their team down!  And even after your team has won, there is always the anxiety about next time!  Next time we might lose!  And then who would we be?!

And inevitably there are vast audiences for these competitive sports.  And this has become a major form of involvement in sport: A passive, consumerist approach.

But what about the health of the people who are watching these events? Clearly, their health doesn’t get better by watching other people exercising. In fact, we now know that sedentary lifestyle is killing people! (Spectator sport does however make large fortunes for sports-related businesses and TV companies.)

The Eastern approach is very different: The benefits to the body of Chi Kung, (which is one of several Eastern forms of exercise), are many and varied. It’s like a type of medical therapy as well as an exercise system.

I was very fortunate in the 1980s to stumble across Chi Kung, when I joined Penny Ramsden’s Chi Kung class in Hebden Bridge. I found it so helpful, and health-giving, that I am still doing the exercises almost every morning, for over thirty years later!

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For many years I have recommended Chinese exercises, including Chi Kung, to students in college, and to my coaching/counselling clients.

Front cover, 8In the book on diet and exercise which I co-authored with Jim Byrne, I quoted a student of Chi Kung who improved his own mental health using this system.  Towards the end of his blog he wrote this:  “(Chi Kung) is a powerful tool for overcoming mild to moderate depression, for overcoming anxiety, worry and fear. It is a potent way to raise self-esteem and increase your resistance to the stresses and strains of modern living.”

From: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity, by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.***

So, I would recommend this system of exercise for whole body-brain-mind health.

~~~

Illustrating Chi Kung in action

Further down this page, you will see a video clip which illustrates the calming and relaxing movements of Chi Kung exercise, which gently gives the body a full workout – and practitioners feel great afterwards!

The exercise costs nothing, after you’ve learned how to do it.  It’s safe and effective and you can practice it anywhere at any time (indoors if the weather is bad. But exercising outside is better, because of all the fresh oxygen [chi] you get into your lungs and bloodstream).

You don’t need special equipment and, if you do it in the morning, it sets you up for the day to deal with the many hassles of life which you will inevitably face.

Here is a video clip of a group practising Chi Kung techniques:

My tutor (Penny Ramsden) told our group that, before she tried Chi Kung, she had been bed-ridden for a significant amount of time with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Now she was fully recovered, after being taught by Michael Tse (pronounced Shay!), who teaches Chi Kung all over the world.

There are many classes where you can learn the movements, which you can then use for your physical and mental benefit for the rest of your life!

This form of exercise is great for developing resilience and managing the stresses of daily life, and if you practice it every day, it will slowly transform and strengthen you and enrich your life.

For many years I have recommended these exercises to students in college, and to my coaching/counselling clients.

Front cover, 8In the book on diet and exercise which I co-authored with Jim Byrne, I quoted a student of Chi Kung who improved his own mental health using this system.  Towards the end of his blog he wrote this:  “(Chi Kung) is a powerful tool for overcoming mild to moderate depression, for overcoming anxiety, worry and fear. It is a potent way to raise self-esteem and increase your resistance to the stresses and strains of modern living.”

From: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity, by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.***

So, I would recommend this system of exercise for whole body-brain-mind health.

I hope you investigate this system of exercise, and experiment with it. It’s incredible value for money. And it builds up your most precious asset: your physical and mental health.

It feels good right away, once you start to do it!  And when you set out to face your day, you can feel the energy flowing through your body!  You will also feel resilient in the face of the inevitable hassles of your day!

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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Reference

‘The Tao of Detox’, by Daniel Reid (2003). London, Simon and Shuster UK Ltd.

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The benefits of ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’

Blog Post No.9

Posted on 2nd July 2016: (Originally posted on 28th October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: Several fascinating research findings about the benefits of ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’

Introduction:

Bluebells-trees.JPGMy job as a coach/counsellor is to help my clients become strong, confident and healthy. And if I find information that will help people achieve that goal, then it’s my job to spread the good news.

So in this blog I am going to show you the research evidence that walking amongst trees, simple as it may seem, can do amazingly beneficial things for our bodies without us realising it.

What is ‘Forest bathing’ or ‘Shinrin Yoku’?

The name ‘Shinrin Yoku’ was created by the Japanese ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 1982, and what it means is: ‘Making contact with, and taking in the atmosphere of the forest’ (not actually bathing). There are now a few dozen forest therapy centres in Japan, as the process has been scientifically investigated and the research findings demonstrate the benefits of walking in the forests.   These ‘forest bathing’ activities have been shown to be very beneficial for the body.

Yoshifumi Miyazaki, one of the main researchers in this field, has been researching the effects of nature on our bodies for over 30 years, and he mentions in his TED  talk on ‘Nature therapy,’ a  highly significant fact:

Miyazaki.JPGHe mentioned that we as human beings (homo sapiens) have lived on earth for 5 million years, and for 99.9999% of that time, we lived in the forests. Then urbanisation took place, with the industrial revolution, but this period of time has only been 0.0001% of that 5 million years!

So because we are living in an artificial, man-made (or human-made) environment we’re always in a state of stress, and to strengthen ourselves against that stress, if we return to nature and walk in the forests, then we will benefit a great deal from that. We will, he maintains, strengthen our immune system.

Here are some of the research results:

The forest environments reduce the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the bloodstream. Research conducted in 2005-2006 produced evidence that it reduced cortisol concentration by 13.4% after simply looking at the forest for 20 minutes, and it had decreased by 15.8% after walking in the forest.

People’s pulse rates dropped: In the 2008 research, the average pulse rate dropped by 6.0% after viewing the forest, and a further 3.9% decrease after walking there.

But the highest change was in the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ [or relaxation response] part of the nervous system, which switches on to help our bodies recover from the effects of stress).

Researchers know that this is connected to our heart rate variability, and this activity increases when we feel relaxed.

Hardcastle-Crags1.jpgSo when the research participants simply viewed the forest settings, there was an enhancement of the parasympathetic nervous system’s activity by 56.1%.

But after the research participants had walked in the forest, there was an enhancement of the parasympathetic nervous system activity – an increase of 103%!

Why did these bodily changes take place in the research participants?  Dr. Miyazaki discovered that one of the reasons for these changes is that the pine trees in the forests release a substance called ‘phytoncide’. This is the substance emitted by pine trees to kill insects and stop wood rot, and this substance has a beneficial effect on people as they walk through the forests. He has done a lot of interesting research with different wood scents, and shown how they have a positive effect on the body.

So when you’re out walking in the trees, you are really helping your body recover from the strains of working and driving in an urban environment, and regular walking in a natural, tree-rich setting will strengthen your immune system.

(I strongly recommend that you look at Dr. Miyazaki’s TED talk: at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD4rlWqp7Po )

He also mentions in his talk the effects of looking at flowers on humans, and he hands out red roses during his presentation – a lovely gesture to put across his ideas.

I hope you experiment with this idea of walking in the woods or forest.  Happy walking – and finally I’d like to recommend Hardcastle Crags in Hebden Bridge  as a great place to walk!

That’s all for this week,

Best wishes,

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata 4 coaching at btinternet dot com

01422 843 629

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Stress management for students and school pupils

Blog Post No. 32

8th May 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: How deep breathing and revision techniques help students get higher grades

Review of a Sunday Times article on stress management for pupils and their parents

Introduction

At this time of year there are thousands of students of all ages going in for exams of one kind or another. How can they help themselves to handle the pressures they face?

Schoolchildren-sit-an-exam-roomIn this blog I am going to do a short summary of an experiment that was conducted over the last three years in an independent girls school, to help students who were preparing for their GCSE exams; and look at the results to see how they could help anyone who was entering an exam themselves.

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Revision, Planning and Deep breathing

School-meditation-008For the last year, students at Queen Anne’s independent boarding school, in Reading, have been learning all about how their brains react to stress, so that they are ready for their forthcoming exams.

They were shown how planning and revision strategies reduce the sense of panic when they are in the exam room. But they were also taught techniques such as deep breathing and reappraising the importance of the exams.

Pressure from the parents and universities

Why would strategies like this be necessary?

Apparently there was a survey conducted by the Headmaster’s and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents schools such as Eton, Harrow, Westminster as well as other independent schools.

Some results

Quiet-time95% of the heads who were polled said: “Visible stress related to exams” had increased in their schools over the last 5 years. And more than half, 56%, said that the biggest cause of the children becoming stressed was the pressure from home. And nearly all head teachers (97%) said that they were now asking parents to come to advice sessions and offering parenting classes to deal with the pressure their children were under, and how to help reduce it.

Action

So, it was in reaction to the increasing stress on children that the head of the school, Julia Harrington, created a 3 year research project to examine how to help the children handle the pressure of forthcoming exams.

“I wanted to make sure the girls stopped being afraid of stress”, she said.

The research focused on teaching the pupils pre-planning for exams plus deep breathing techniques.

Do pre-planning and deep breathing techniques work?

herbert-benson-relaxation-responseThe students attended workshops on mental preparation for their exams and deep breathing techniques, to calm themselves down when necessary.

The school staff found an improvement of up to 2 grades in mock GCSE exams, from December 2014 to January 2016. Abigail Leach, 15, was a student at the school and as a result of the workshops, found that her C grades improved to A’s. She said: “It’s been really helpful…I use deep breathing and also try to put the exams into perspective…they are not the be-all and end-all of life.”

We do not know the proportion of pupils who improved their grades so dramatically, but the author of the article, and the teaching staff, seemed very impressed by the overall effect of the research and teaching strategy.

What can all students learn from the outcomes of this project?

Regardless of the type of school or college, and most pupils do not attend independent schools, I think this research should be taken seriously by teachers and pupils or students, and their parents.

There are two powerful reasons why the techniques taught to the girls at the school were beneficial and led to a reduction in stress in the exam room, with the outcome that they were able to perform better in the exam situation.

Deep-breathing

Firstly, the techniques they were taught gave them a sense of control over their bodies and minds and this strengthened their ability to handle stress. The stress response is explained to the students, and demystified, and seen and understood to be a predictable, manageable process that can be reduced if they follow certain procedures.

Stress-response

 

As they learned about their stress response, how it worked and how to handle it, their fear of the unknown would have reduced.

Secondly, if you do deep breathing exercises of any kind, these techniques automatically switch on the ‘relaxation response’ in the body.

This is because the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered by the deep breathing, into secreting hormones in order to decrease blood pressure and heart rate. This is immediately experienced as more pleasurable than the feeling of being stressed, and the learners realize they have the power to create this relaxed feeling as necessary.

Stress-free-environmentConclusion

It is very sad to read about the increase in cases of self-harm, depression, anxiety and eating disorders among pupils in schools, which has been recorded in recent years. This seems highly likely to be the result of the fact that pressure has been racked up by the Universities, who want to reintroduce a sense of competition for places, and by government policies.

But it’s encouraging to think that some schools are taking stress reduction strategies much more seriously, and seeing that not only do exam preparation techniques and stress management strategies help the pupils, but there is a natural increase in academic performance as children become happier and more in control of their bodies and minds.

Of course, now their parents have to learn to calm down. But that’s not the children’s problem!

Having been in the position of helping students to pass exams  for many years, it’s heart-warming to see teachers taking students stress levels seriously and making space for lessons in stress management, in the school system.

Knowing the value of stress management in my own life, I took the time to study for a diploma in stress management; and I have taught stress management strategies in a variety of contexts for more than two decades.

Today, I prefer to teach stress management strategies on an individual basis, in Hebden Bridge.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor-Tutor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843629

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Reference:

“Top schools teach fretful parents in bid to ease pressure on pupils”, by Sian Griffiths, Page 8, ‘The Sunday Times’, 17th April 2016

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